When Oregon passed its "Shield Law" offering strong protections to reporters' notes and other confidential info from judicial subpoena, there were no bloggers.
The year was 1973. And Oregonians in that Watergate year were concerned about shielding "people connected with, employed by or engaged in a media of public communication including print and broadcast media, books, periodicals, pamphlets, wire services or feature syndicates."
But 34 years later, as Congress deliberates a broader federal shield for reporters (see "Shields Up," WW, May 9, 2007), Oregon's law has yet to be asked a more modern question: Does it protect bloggers, an occupation/avocation not a decade old?
While Oregon's shield has never been tested to see if it covers bloggers, its broad definition of whom it protects leads most to believe—and hope—that bloggers would be included.
Wendy Culverwell, president of the Society for Professional Journalists' Oregon chapter, says bloggers are welcome under the shield.
"The question isn't, is this person a certified journalist?" says Tim Gleason, dean at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication. "It's, is the person engaging in a function that serves the greater public interest?"
Gleason cited UO's recent Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism as an example of the broadening term of "journalist." A special mention was given to Josh Wolf, an independent blogger who spent more than eight months jailed in California for refusing to hand over a videotape of an anarchist demonstration to a federal grand jury. He was freed April 3 without ever testifying about the tape.
"My personal view is that there should be broad protection," says Gleason.
Jack Orchard, a Portland lawyer whose clients include the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, says you'd be "really hard-pressed" to read the law as excluding bloggers. Stephanie Soden, a spokeswoman for Oregon's Department of Justice, says it's "debatable" if the current law covers bloggers and that it's unclear whether the courts or the state Legislature will sort out that debate.
Kari Chisholm — who runs BlueOregon.comfor "progressive Oregonians" — calls himself an advocate, not a journalist. But Chisholm thinks the law should protect him and his ilk, saying, "To me, being a journalist should not be based upon the media which you use."
The One True b!X, a longtime local blogger whose most recent endeavor was trying to stop proposed changes to Portland government, doesn't think he's considered a journalist. "But it doesn't matter, because I still commit acts of journalism,'' he says. "The courts would be insane not to include bloggers."